Every once in a while, Hollywood releases a pair of movies from different studios at the same time that cover, more or less, the same subject. It’s always a bizarre coincidence (if it is that) when it happens, and I felt this way recently when both City of Titans and Ship of Heroes both released their long-anticipated character builders to their backers.
While Eliot and I have already looked at what City of Titans had to offer, Ship of Heroes’ character creation beta demanded the same examination. Feeling like I was suffering from deja vu, I booted up Heroic Games’ efforts to see what this City of Heroes spiritual successor had accomplished so far.
“Kids, would you like to make a superhero?”
My children seem to love making superhero characters in MMOs as much as I do, and it didn’t take much convincing to get them huddled with me in front of the monitor to examine all of the choices that Ship of Heroes had.
It’s probably way too early to compare-and-contrast between these upcoming superhero MMOs, but I was definitely struck by how different both of these titles were in their builders. While City of Titans’ builder was functional and contained an obscene number of sliders, it lacked the all-around experience, personality, and polish that Ship of Heroes manages here. It’s not a perfect builder, not yet, but what is there seems to function very well as it takes players from superhero concept to execution.
I really did love getting to pick my character’s archetype and powers, and there was lively debate in the room as to which powers our hero should take. We ended up grabbing Martial Arts as a primary powerset (my kids are taking Taekwondo right now) and Fiery Defense as a secondary power (I think my son wanted to make this hero Charzard or something).
Then came the visual customization itself, i.e. the part of the game that will take upwards of three hours for a very discriminating MMO player. I have to say that this is a joy to behold: The characters look stylized and fairly well-done (they could use another pass or two, particularly with some graphic options), and there’s the man-woman-hulk body types with which to work. Ship of Heroes has fewer body sliders then City of Titans, so you won’t be able to tweak as many things, but I have a suspicion that sort of excessive control is only of importance to a select few.
For me, the real fun came in with the costumes. Again, it’s obvious that the game is still in deep development, because most costume slots only had a half-dozen or fewer options. But those options? They looked fantastic. There were nicely matching uniforms, if you want something easy, as well as a few one-off customizations. It’s not nearly to the point where you can make the character that exists in your head, but you can do some pretty fun things with it and have fun picking different colors.
My daughter got the privilege of naming our character, and so Unicorn Starwinkle was born. My boys groaned hard at this.
In a game in a city in a ship
I guess I wasn’t paying close enough attention to what Heroic Games was doing with this beta, because I thought that this was a character builder and nothing else. Nope! On the contrary, we were able to log into the game world and go exploring right alongside of a few other players who were zooming around.
There wasn’t much to do — certainly no missions or fighting — but I was simply delighted to be able to poke around a game world that I had only previously witnessed in MJ’s stream videos or through screenshots. Once you get past the inherent strangeness of having a city (with a faux sky) inside a giant spaceship, it’s pretty neat. It’s easy to identify it as a metropolis, but it’s more EPCOT than New York City, with futuristic structures and monorails zipping around. Gotta have a monorail if you’re a City of Heroes successor!
It’s also very big, although it probably has to be with travel powers under every hero’s belt. I was satisfied to be nothing more than a tourist in spandex, snapping pics and poking around while the poking was good. We even repeatedly bumped into another character — some robotic Santa Claus — who seemed to become attached to us once we gave him a friendly emote.
The light side of randomizers
RNGs might be the bane of your MMO loot experience, but it actually helps the Ship of Heroes creator. After our tour, I returned to the character creator to get an idea of some of the other possibilities. That’s where the randomization buttons came in to play. There are four of them, each triggering a different random feature (random face, random skin color, random costume, etc.).
Because of the relatively few costume options, I kept seeing the same pieces again and again, but every once in a while there would be a terrific combo that would look spot on. Probably my biggest quibble was with the huge body type, as most outfits seem to look ridiculous on him — but then again, I felt like that in City of Heroes too.
Ultimately, Ship of Heroes’ character creation beta left me hungry but not dissatisfied. I was deeply engaged with what the game had to give me, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to see my powers, have more options, fight bad guys, go on missions, and do everything that we hope will be in the launch version of the game. And for that, I’m going to have to summon a superheroic feat of patience, because we still have a ways to go for that.